Thursday, April 10, 2014

habitat ~ 04/10/14 ~ Pinnacles National Park - west

Pinnacles National Park - west entrance

I suggested to Ken @ Nature of a Man that we should start the "10th Day Club", because so far this year we've gone out to Stevens Creek on February 10, Midpen Preserve on March 10, and now Pinnacles on April 10.  There was some talk about meeting closer to Yosemite this spring, too.  So, maybe we'll get something arranged for Saturday, May 10 for CA nature bloggers?  Is there any interest?

This time we had Ken's CNPS friends, another Ken, Stella, Steven, and Joe in tow.  I had a lovely time and enjoyed observing how seriously curious native plant folks do their thing with jeweler's loupes and plant keys.  Their back and forth exchange of opinions was awesome!  Plus, they're proficient hikers.  I'll admit I was a little nervous about being able to keep up, both in terms of plants and hiking, because they came with a reputation.  They're no namby-pamby garden strolling group.  Fortunately, my 7 miles a day walk with weights rehab after my bike accident is paying off with better hiking stamina.  It's unfortunate so many nature lovers I know physically can't manage a decent hike; too many waited until after retirement to start the fun stuff and discovered their bodies refused to cooperate.  Gotta keep your body moving all along.  I still have a lot to learn and hope to retain my curiosity for a long time to come.  Considering I'm pretty shy about joining organized groups, I've really enjoyed these casual get-togethers to go places and appreciate nature.  Thanks, again, Ken!

It felt ever so slightly cooler at 88.0 °F and became somewhat hazy as the day wore on compared to 2 days before when the air remained crystal clear.  I've already been to Pinnacles 5 times this year, something I've never done before.  I love seeing the season progress, even if this year's extreme drought can hardly be called typical.  Compare this late dusting of spring green to the still swathed in winter reds and relatively bare February 25, 2014 visit.  Even at one month ago, the green was barely poking through on March 9, 2014.  There seems to be a ton of yellow flowers out right now, even dominating my favorite lilac, spring wildflowers' color co-chair.  Given the variety of flowers that have started blooming, I'm beginning to have hope for the coming months after a seemingly slow start.

bitter root with concrete mite ~ 04/10/14 ~ Pinnacles

Montiaceae (formerly  Portulacaceae)

This gorgeous little bitter root became a running joke, and our proclaimed goal for this hike.  Ken mentioned a while back that I should look for Lewisia at Pinnacles starting the first of April.  I misheard him, and every exchange thereafter became, "Lewisialewisii?  No, LewisiaClarkia lewisii?  No, Lewisia.  I don't think it's found at Pinnacles.  Yes, it is.  Lewis' clarkia?  No, not Clarkia, Lewisia.  It's related to miner's lettuce.  What?  Really?"  That's what you get when multiple plants were named after Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.  I would have heard and understood bitter root.  Sigh.  It's also the state flower of Montanta

I wasn't sure what to look for, but the CNPS folks kept their eyes peeled on the scree.  An extra jaunt down another trail, past the Indian warriors, led to success.  Its delicate, girly lilac color positively glows against the mottled, grey rock bits. 

Apparently, little red mites (not the velvet kind) have a thing for bitter root, or at least they do at Pinnacles.  I know very little about mites, except at their mention I tend to think of the Demodex in my forehead.  The split pairs of legs, with two pairs aimed forward and two pairs in back, make me reasonably confident of this ID.  The Balaustium mites are reported to be pollen feeders, which is strange because they're also known as predators and a sucking pest down in Australia.  That's a lot of scleritized mouth specialization for a tiny little animal.  How do they consume the pollen?  Suck on it? 

bitter root leaves

The leaves totally remind me of French green beans.  I held the leaves.  The ones with blooming flowers were actually floppy, which totally surprised me.  These here were still a bit bendy, not super turgid.

bitter root at another location without mites, plus a fly

On the way back down, we found another patch of Lewisia.  We must have overlooked it... but they glow!  These were on the other side of the trail, and the sun hit them differently.  Or, maybe they hadn't been blooming earlier in the day?